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Getting There: A Magic the Gathering Puzzle


Binding Grasp
It's been a while since Vern passed by your local game store. According to him, it's for good reasons: The first is that he doesn't like wearing face masks. The second is that he's old enough to have to worry about his own health whenever he steps out of the house.

"You can't be that old," you tell him.

"My first computer used floppy disks."

"What's a floppy disk?" you ask, in your most innocent voice.

Vern raises an eyebrow. "I can see you smirking," he says. "You should be glad I'm all the way over here, and you're all the way over there."

You're kidding, of course - you know what a floppy disk is. On top of that, Vern looks just fine for his age. He's even wearing a mask, so the desire to play one or more games obviously overcame the prospect of staying at home.

You're actually playing one of Vern's decks at the moment: a Blue-Green deck whose creatures are all legendary. ("Because I was bored," Vern says.) Vern, on the other hand, is playing a loaner - one of CJ's random piles of cards that you're dropping off at his place later this evening. And much to your surprise, you've found yourselves stuck.

The problem isn't that both of your decks aren't very good (although they do come close). The problem is that the pile Vern's playing apparently has a good amount of lifegain, and the Blue-Green deck you're playing is slow. As in, really slow.

Vern taps five lands and casts a Black Carriage. "Now there's a bad card for you," he says.

"What does it do?"

"It's a 4/4 trample creature with a terrible ability. I won a game with it once - only once, but that was when Standard had Homelands and Ice Age, and wasn't even called 'Standard'."

"You're not attacking?"

"Not since you stole my Wall of Reverence," Vern says, scratching his head. "I don't suppose this deck has anything that can break through a ton of life, does it?"

"You'll have to ask my friend," you admit. "Even I can't tell you what he's thinking when he puts these decks together."

"At least I know we'll get along with each other. You're right, by the way - I'm not attacking into that mess of yours. So, you can go ahead and start your turn."

You untap your permanents and start to draw a card, only stopping when you realize you're forgetting something.

Vern looks up. "What's wrong?" he asks.

"I almost forgot about the Binding Grasp," you say.

Vern shakes his head. "I was hoping you would," he says. "Now I know we're really stuck. I knew I should have put an Ambassador Laquatus in there."

"I don't know, Vern. This stalemate's going to have to break sometime."

"I've been on the receiving end of too many draws to believe in that," Vern says. "If you think we can find a way out of this situation, you'll have to prove it."

It is the beginning of the upkeep step on your turn, and you're currently resolving your Binding Grasp's ability. Defeat Vern before the beginning of his next combat phase.

You are at 16 life, with the following cards in play:

You have the following card in your hand:

Before doing anything else, you will need to resolve your Binding Grasp's ability: You may choose whether or not to pay its upkeep cost. You or your opponent may also activate abilities in response.

You have not yet played a land this turn (because you haven't reached your main phase yet). You still have a substantial number of cards remaining in your library, although you know neither the identities nor the order of those cards.

Vern is at 22 life and has no cards in his hand. He has the following cards in play:

If you've got a solution in mind, don't put it in the comments! Help keep this puzzle a mystery to other readers!

Instead, if you think you've got a great solution, you can send your solution to puzzles@ gatheringmagic.com with the subject line "Puzzle - Getting There" by 11:59 P.M. EST on Monday, October 19, 2020. We'll include the best ones in next week's article along with the next puzzle!

Last Week's Puzzle

Correct solutions to last week's puzzle were received from Hyman Rosen, Sean Patrick Keatley, David Arnold, and Jacob Butcher.

This three-in-one puzzle turned out to be more difficult than expected. While most people seemed to find solutions for your first two draws fairly quickly, the third draw was quite the stumper.

Painsmith's solution isn't immediately obvious, but it does have a good lead: You only have one artifact on your side of the table, so retrieving and casting Moriok Replica is probably an important part of the solution. As Hyman Rosen notes, this is indeed the case:

  1. Tap our basic lands to add wwwwwbbb.
  2. For 1b cast Painsmith.
  3. For 1b activate Blood-Chin Fanatic targeting Tomoe, sacrificing Moriok Replica.

    • Pawn of Ulamog makes an Eldrazi Spawn token that we sacrifice to add 1.
    • Tomoe loses 2 life and goes to 6. We gain 2 life and go to 11.
  4. For 1 activate Crypt of the Eternals to add r.
  5. For r activate Yargle, Glutton of Urborg to give itself trample.
  6. For b activate Undertaker discarding Weight of Conscience to return Moriok Replica to our hand.
  7. For 3 cast Moriok Replica.

    • Painsmith triggers targeting Yargle.
    • Yargle gains deathtouch and +2/+0, becoming 13/4.
  8. Attack with Selfless Cathar, Pawn of Ulamog, Tethmos High Priest, Blood-Chin Fanatic, and Yargle.

    • Tomoe can block with up to seven creatures.
    • Since Yargle has deathtouch and trample, it can assign 1 damage to each creature blocking it and the rest will trample through, so Tomoe cannot do better by leaving any other attacker unblocked.
    • Thus, Yargle is blocked by at most three blockers.
  9. Yargle assigns 10 trample damage to Tomoe. Cubwarden assigns 3 lifelink damage to the creature it's blocking. This means that Tomoe loses net 7 life and the game.

Tomoe can block Yargle with more than three creatures, of course. However, this means that she has to let at least one of your other attackers through, and results in her taking 7 or more net damage anyway.

The solution based on Cartouche of Solidarity hinges on the token that you create when the Cartouche enters the battlefield. This is a Warrior token, which means that you can throw it at your opponent with Blood-Chin Fanatic. Jacob Butcher notes that the token is only a 1/1 creature, though, which means that you have to do some further work:

  1. Pay w to cast Cartouche of Solidarity on Moriok Replica, giving it +1/+1.

  2. Pay ww and sacrifice Selfless Cathar to give my (current) creatures +1/+1 until end of turn.

  3. Pay b, discard Weight of Conscience, and tap Undertaker for its ability to return Selfless Cathar from my graveyard to my hand.
  4. Pay w to cast Selfless Cathar.
  5. Pay 11 and sacrifice Selfless Cathar to give my (current) creatures +1/+1 until end of turn.

  6. Pay 1b and sacrifice Moriok Replica to activate Blood-Chin Fanatic's ability so that Tomoe loses 5 life and I gain 5 life. (Tomoe now has 3 life.)

    • Pawn of Ulamog's ability creates an Eldrazi Spawn token. Sacrifice Eldrazi Spawn token for 1.
  7. Pay 1b and sacrifice the Warrior token to activate Blood-Chin Fanatic's ability so that Tomoe loses 3 life and I gain 3 life. (Tomoe now has 0 life and dies.)

The Cartouche solution has one variant: You can instead sacrifice Selfless Cathar to its own ability, then cast Cartouche of Solidarity and Weight of Conscience on Tethmos High Priest to bring back the Cathar twice more, sacrificing it each time. This leaves you with a 5/5 Moriok Replica and a 3/3 Warrior token, as well as enough mana from Eldrazi Spawn tokens to finish your opponent off.

The Raiders' Wake solution is definitely the most complex one in terms of analysis. This is because you need to use elements of the previous two solutions: You need to activate Blood-Chin Fanatic, Selfless Cathar and the ability given by Deviant Glee; as well as cast both Weight of Conscience and Raiders' Wake. But the problem really lies in finding enough mana for this solution, as David Arnold writes:

  1. ww to cast Weight of Conscience on Cubwarden.
  2. Tap Selfless Cathar and Undertaker to exile Cubwarden.
  3. ww and sacrifice Selfless Cathar to give creatures you control +1/+1.

  4. Go to combat and attack with Yargle, Blood-Chin Fanatic, Tethmos High Priest, Moriok Replica, and Pawn of Ulamog.

"At this point," David notes, "Yargle is attacking with a power of 12, and each of your other creatures is attacking with a power of 3. Tomoe has six blockers to your five attackers. There are quite a few blocking scenarios, but there's a solution that works regardless of how Tomoe blocks:

  1. Sacrifice your Eldrazi Spawn token for 1. Filter this to r using Crypt of the Eternals, and use Deviant Glee's ability to give Yargle trample.
  2. Move to first strike damage. Moriok Replica deals its damage either to Tomoe (if unblocked), or to the creature blocking it.
  3. wb and sacrifice Moriok Replica to Blood-Chin Fanatic. Tomoe loses 3 life (down to 5), you gain 3 life.

  4. Move to (regular) combat damage.

The fact that you're removing Cubwarden and sacrificing Moriok Replica to Blood-Chin Fanatic greatly reduces your opponent's blocking options. Because they need to take less than 5 damage, your opponent needs to throw at least 8 toughness' worth of blockers in front of Yargle. This means that they must either:

  • Block Yargle with four or more creatures. This means that at least two of your other attackers go unblocked, for at least 6 damage.
  • Block Yargle with three creatures.

    • This means that at least one of your other attackers goes unblocked for at least 3 damage. (Even if this is Moriok Replica, it still deals 3 first strike damage before it gets sacrificed to the Fanatic).
    • In this case, Frontline Devastator must be one of the two creatures blocking Yargle, or otherwise Yargle tramples over for at least 3 more damage.
  • Block Yargle with Frontline Devastator and Nacatl Hunt-Pride.
  • Block Yargle with Frontline Devastator and Mercenaries.

All this boils down to a single conclusion: Frontline Devastator must block Yargle in order for your opponent to survive combat. This destroys your 12/5 Yargle, and guarantees that you get an additional Eldrazi Spawn token from Pawn of Ulamog.

  1. By the end of combat, Tomoe has taken 3 or 4 combat damage (down to 1 or 2 life), either from an unblocked attacker or trample from Yargle.
    • Pawn of Ulamog sees Yargle (and possibly some of your other creatures) die, creating at least one Eldrazi Spawn token.
    • Squee's Embrace returns Frontline Devastator to Tomoe's hand.

  2. In your second main phase, sacrifice your two Eldrazi Spawn tokens for 2.
  3. 2bb to cast Raiders' Wake.
  4. At end of turn, Raiders' Wake triggers. Tomoe discards Frontline Devastator, and loses 2 life and the game.

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